Wednesday 23 March 2016
Cold with tang of snow in the air 8 degrees
We left a cloudy city in the early morning, when the street sweepers were just coming out of their vans and the vapour from the morning coffee bars hung low and richly scented in the alleyways of the old city.
The road climbed and climbed and then we were above the cloud line and the ridge of the Guadarrama mountain range rose in splendour before us, thickly coated with dark pines and topped with crisp white snow. Just before 2 we stopped for lunch at an albergo which was obviously popular with lorry drivers.
The dining room was just starting to fill up. A waiter came over and gave us a rapid verbal delivery of the menu. We didn't really get what he was saying so just stopped him periodically and he wrote things down on a pad and then brought OH a mixed salad and me something smothered in mayonnaise. Known as a Russian salad, it is a potato base with peppers and onions and more mayonnaise than is good for a stomach trapped in already close fitting jeans. This was followed by a very large piece of meat on a bone. And then creme caramel and coffee. My stomach had not been happy at the salad start but was very uncomfortable by the end and I had to go and shut myself in the loo and keep shouting occupado at people hammering on the door.
Two hours later and we arrived at the Valley of the Fallen near to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A monastery built by King Philip II in the 16th century and the place where Francisco Franco is buried. Called the Valley of the Fallen because of the people killed during the 1936-1939 Civil War in Spain. The site is entered from a large gate, guarded and ticketed entry only. The narrow road then winds through woodland for a good 15 minutes before, soaring out of the trees, you get the first glimpse of the 150 metre high cross on its granite outcrop and arrive in the courtyard of a vast Benedictine monastery.
We parked in an area which could have accommodated a vast number of vehicles. There was absolute silence - not a bird moved, not a breath of wind. Heaps of piled aside snow on the ground. The cold filtered right through our clothing. We saw some people in the middle of the columns and they vanished through a large door so we followed and came into the entrance hall where the cast iron radiators were pumping out a furious amount of heat.
A lady in a booth gave us a key and led us to a simple room consisting of two beds and a desk and a cross. Are you going out later she enquired? Because the gates close and you wont be able to get back in. We decided to stay put and had a shower in the gritty stone bathroom and then a siesta.
Six o'clock and we were ready to go and explore the surroundings. To OH great alarm, the bar had only been open between 2 and 4.30. We drove around the woods and then parked up again, put on some thick clothing and walked down to the Basilica where Franco is buried. It was closed and deserted. The patio in front of the building was massive and stark and gave the most glorious views of the mountains, patterned pink and purple in the fading light.
Back at the monastery and after actually reading some of the books we had brought with us - this has to be a first - it was 9 o'clock and in theory the refectory was open. There were seven people already there - a group of three ladies, a middle aged lady at one table and a man at another and two couples.
My stomach was still complaining so I had bread and water and OH had the dinner which was rather miserable - supposed soup which was stock with some floating bread, followed by mini empanadas and flan. He was relieved to find that there was some wine.
Back to the room. It had been repainted by someone of my height, and not benefiting from a ladder. Above the paint line was a big patch of paint which had fallen off the wall. It was the shape of England, without the rest of the UK. There was the most wonderful feeling of peace and being far away from the stresses and demands of normal life. Through the window, the moon shone in the carp ponds
OH read me excerpts from The Spanish Labyrinth and it was so riveting that I was asleep in no time.